AL ASAD, Iraq -- Since the current role of an F/A-18 Hornet in Operation Iraqi Freedom is close air support the pilots of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, the ‘Silver Eagles,’ must always be prepared to deliver a lethal payload on enemy targets. Providing the firepower to the aircraft is the role of the aviation ordnance technicians of both VMFA-115 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16 (Reinforced).
The process of getting the rounds down range begins at the MALS-16 aviation ordnance section here, where MALS-31 augments from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., stand by with their MALS-16 peers, ready to support the ordnance needs of VMFA-115.
“We provide support for the F/A-18 squadrons,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy Dorril, an aviation ordnance systems technician with MALS-31, the ‘Stingers.’ “We provide any ordnance and equipment they may need. We also maintain, repair and regularly inspect the bomb racks, gun systems and missile launchers used by the squadrons.”
The ordnance Marines of MALS-16 work around the clock to ensure that requests for ordnance are processed immediately and delivered to the flightline as fast and safely as possible, according to Dorril.
Once ordnance reaches the squadron, the Silver Eagles’ aviation ordnance technicians begin the process of loading and arming the aircraft.
“Before an aircraft can be loaded, we always check the electronic ordnance systems to make sure they are functioning,” said Sgt. Dameon Lyon, an aviation ordnance technician with VMFA-115. “Once that’s good-to-go, we load the aircraft and double-check the systems to make sure they will work when the time to use them comes.”
Double-checking everything is a part of the safety procedures performed by every aviation ordnance Marine during each operation they carry out, whether it is in training or deployment, according to Lyons, a Kaysville, Utah native.
“The biggest difference in working out here is that we are always using live ordnance,” added Staff Sgt. Tracy Simpson, a VMFA-115 aviation ordnance technician. “There are no second chances when you are dealing with explosives.”
Whether explosive or not, aviation ordnance Marines treat every piece of ordnance with the same measure of caution.
“We train the same way we operate in combat,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darren M. Gallagher, the VMFA-115 ordnance officer. “We treat every piece of ordnance as if it were live.”
Operations in Iraq test the endurance and the patience of the ordnance Marines.
“Due to the constant upload and offload of ordnance, I think fatigue will be the biggest challenge the Marines will face here,” said Master Sgt. Michael Yarbrough, the VMFA-115 ordnance chief.
Another challenge the Marines face is keeping sand out of their gear, tools and ordnance, according to Gallagher, a Langhorne, Pa., native.
“The dust really starts to get to you,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Janeiro, an aviation ordnance technician with VMFA-115. “It gets into your eyes and lungs and into your equipment.”
Despite the many obstacles, numerous pre-deployment exercises have prepared the Marines for the demanding environment of a deployment in Iraq.
“The days are long, the work is fast-paced and safety is a constant concern,” Lyons added. “But the training exercises, like Desert Talon, have prepared us for this.”
The Silver Eagles continue to fly, ready for any potential enemy targets thanks to the efforts of the aviation ordnance Marines.
“I take pride in what we do,” said Janeiro, a Lowell, Mass., native. “The ordnance we provide could save the lives of Marines on the ground.”